The Science of Reading ComprehensionThe term Science of Reading has been the focus of attention for several years (see my January, 2020 post). The term refers to the research that reading experts, especially cognitive scientists, have conducted on how we learn to read. This body of knowledge, over twenty years in the making, has helped debunk older methods of reading instruction that were based on tradition and observation, not evidence. Much of the discourse around instruction based on the Science of Reading tends to focus on the importance of explicit instruction for phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency. But what does the research tell us about effective instruction for comprehension?
Pre-K Literacy InstructionKeys to Literacy recently introduced a new professional development program titled Keys to Emergent Literacy for Pre-K educators which caused me to review resources related to preschool literacy instruction. A short piece in Psychology Today titled "5 Science-Based Tips for Promoting Literacy in Preschool" (Gentry, 2020) reminded me of the importance of providing developmentally appropriate and research-based literacy instruction to preschoolers.
What is Structured Literacy instruction?Keys to Literacy recently launched our new "Understanding Dyslexia" online course, and one of the major topics in the course is the importance of using a structured literacy approach to teaching reading to students with dyslexia. Structured literacy is a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that research shows is effective for all students and essential for students who have difficulty with reading. This approach addresses all the foundational elements that are critical for reading comprehension. It is characterized by the provision of systematic, explicit instruction that integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It includes instruction for multiple levels of language.
Phoneme & Letter-Sound LaddersOne of the most well-established findings in beginning reading research is the relationship between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition. Phonics is the system by which symbols (i.e., letters, also called graphemes) represent sounds (i.e., phonemes) in an alphabetic system like English. Some sounds are represented by just a single letter (e.g., b for /b/ as in tub) while some sounds are represented by two or more letters (e.g., bb for /b/ as in rubber). In order to learn this phonics system where "print maps to speech" students rely on their phonemic awareness ability to isolate, blend and segment sounds as they learn which letters/graphemes represent those speech sounds. This is why, of all the phonological awareness tasks, phonemic awareness is most closely associated with phonics and learning to read. One activity that can support both phonemic awareness and learning letter-sound correspondences is Word Ladders, sometimes called Word Chains.
High Frequency Sight WordsEducators sometimes confuse the following related terms: sight words, high frequency words, decodable words, irregular words. Sight words are words that are instantly recognized and identified without conscious effort. High frequency words are the words most commonly used in the English language. Because high frequency words are essential to learning how to read, teachers should begin to teach some high frequency words as sight words to children in primary grades at the same time children are being taught how to use phonics to decode words. Teachers introduce these words as soon as kindergarten if their students are ready.
The Role of Orthographic Mapping in Learning to ReadEvery word has three forms – its sounds (phonemes), its orthography (spelling), and its meaning. Orthographic mapping is the process that all successful readers use to become fluent readers. Through orthographic mapping, students use the oral language processing part of their brain to map (connect) the sounds of words they already know (the phonemes) to the letters in a word (the spellings). They then permanently store the connected sounds and letters of words (along with their meaning) as instantly recognizable words, described as “sight vocabulary” or “sight words”.
Systematic Phonics Scope and SequenceSystematic phonics instruction follows a sequential and planned set of phonics elements that gradually builds from base elements to more subtle and complex structures. Teachers follow a scope and sequence, as opposed to implicit phonics instruction that addresses phonics as it comes up in text. While there is no universally agreed upon scope and sequence, any logically ordered sequence begins with the most basic phonics concepts and progresses to more difficult concepts, with new learning building on prior knowledge (Carreker, 2011). Sequences vary somewhat among phonics programs. If teachers are using an explicit, systematic phonics program it is best to follow its sequence for the order of teaching. If this is not the case, or if the program is not systematic enough, Keys to Literacy has developed a "generic" scope and sequence.
Levels of Language & LiteracyQuestion: What role does knowledge of language play in reading and writing? Answer: A huge role! Teachers tend to focus on the “five components of reading” when thinking about what’s needed to teach students to be good readers (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). But there is another model that should be considered: the seven levels of language.
Science of Reading in the NewsAs the number of articles, podcasts and blog posts related to the science of reading grows, I've been updating a list I started for our Keys to Literacy trainers to share. We have been getting so many requests about the list, that I decided to make it the focus of this post.
We Need to Pay Attention to the Science of Reading!
The scientific evidence base on how we learn to read and how to best teach reading has been growing and converging over 40 years. This includes brain imaging studies that show how our brains learn to read and underlying causes of why some students have difficulty learning read.
Sadly, teachers often do not have access to this evidence base. Many teachers report that their preservice education in college did little to prepare them for teaching reading. Many veteran teachers report a lack of quality professional development once hired that could help them improve their reading instruction. And for too long, the reading wars have confused teachers and administrators. These wars started in the 1990's when whole language advocates succeeded in convincing too many schools that learning to read comes naturally without the need for explicit instruction in decoding skills. Even today, there are many reading "experts" that say they promote a "balanced" approach to beginning instruction, but what that actually represents is a little bit of incidental phonics thrown in on top of the same approaches to reading instruction that have not worked for the past 25 years. The latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, were just released—and things aren't looking good for the country's young readers.
Why are we still teaching reading the wrong way?“Scientific research has shown how children learn to read and how they should be taught. But many educators don't know the science and, in some cases, actively resist it. As a result, millions of kids are being set up to fail.” This is a quote from Emily Hanford's September, 2018 podcast and article published APMreports by American Public Media. Her piece highlights the lack of teacher knowledge about science-based reading instruction, due in part from not being taught reading science in teacher preparation schools, and in part from incorrect beliefs about how children learn to read.
Retell, Recount, Summary: What’s the difference?Most educators agree that having students of all ages describe text they have read is a helpful comprehension strategy. This includes retelling or recounting, summarizing, and paraphrasing. In reading standard #2, the Common Core Standards require students in grades K-1 to “retell”, students in grades 2-3 to “recount”, and students in grades 4-12 to “summarize”. However, many students and their teachers are not sure about what each term means.
Multisensory Teaching by Emily GibbonsThis post was written by Emily Gibbons, a dyslexia instructor. Emily provides suggestions for using multiple senses when teaching foundational reading skills. Multisensory teaching is not just crucial for kids with dyslexia, it is good solid teaching for ALL students. Using a variety of senses helps with memory and retrieval and allows students to support their areas of weakness with their areas of strength. Incorporating multisensory learning tools into your classroom lessons will not replace intervention services, but it will make classroom lessons more accessible to students with learning differences.
Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and LetterlandLast year, Keys to Literacy decided that it was time to offer a phonics program and literacy professional development for phonemic awareness and phonics instruction in the primary grades. We knew it had to be up to the quality, high standards that educators have come to expect from Keys to Literacy. That is why we chose Letterland!
Teaching Writing in KindergartenI just read another good blog post from Tim Shanahan, this one about how to teach writing in kindergarten…. on the same day that our new Keys to Early Writing book is going to the printer! So, I thought I’d devote this entry to kindergarten writing instruction. You might be asking this question: Do young children in kindergarten even have the skills to be able to write? Part of the answer is how you define writing. When you substitute the word composing, it’s easy to see that the answer is yes! Kindergarteners definitely have the ability to compose, even if they can’t yet read or write letters.
Fostering Academic Language Development in Primary GradesLanguage skills and literacy achievement are highly correlated. The Report of the National Early Literacy Panel (Lonigan & Shanahan, 2008) found that oral language – the ability to produce or comprehend spoken language, including vocabulary and grammar – is correlated with later literacy achievement. The more children know about language, the better equipped they are to succeed in reading and writing.
Patterns of OrganizationExpository text typically incorporates five common patterns of organization, and transition words and phrases often signal the use of these patterns in text. These patterns are sometimes referred to as text structures. They are more commonly found in informational and opinion types of writing, but may also be used in narratives.
This is Your Child’s Brain on ReadingCNN recently reported on research that looked at young children who underwent brain scans while listening to a story. The research found that when parents read to their children, the difference not only shows in children’s behavior and academic performance, but it also shows in their brain activity.
The report explains that when young children were being read a story, a number of regions in the left part of the brain became active...
The Listening and Reading Comprehension LinkI recently read a piece by Monica Brady-Myerov in Language Magazine in which she addresses the importance of teaching students listening skills. That same day I was reviewing the final proof for my updated training book, The Key Comprehension Routine: Primary Grades that includes an updated chapter about the foundational role of oral language and listening comprehension. The coincidence caused me to devote this blog post to listening comprehension!...
Literacy Legislation in the New ESSA LawOn Dec 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) which replaced the “No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB) of 2002.
There are a number of key changes in the new law. Here at Keys to Literacy we are most interested in the LEARN part of the legislation: Literacy Education For All, Results for the Nation.
The program addresses reading and writing instruction across ALL grades and ages – i.e., birth through grade 12...
What Are Prospective Teachers Being Taught About Literacy?The answer: Sadly, not enough!
The International Literacy Association recently released new research brief about teacher preparation for literacy instruction based on states’ requirements. It is part of a larger effort by ILA to examine overall teacher preparation for literacy instruction.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the ILA found that there is inconsistent and insufficient state requirements for ensuring that teachers have the training and knowledge to provide literacy instruction....
Reading and White Matter in the BrainI recently read an intriguing article in the New Yorker, “How Children Learn to Read” by Maria Konnikova, that summarizes the finding of studies conducted by Famiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Hoeft and her colleagues have been conducting longitudinal studies looking at the basic neuroscience of reading development. They have found that the one thing that consistently predicted how well a child would learn to read was the growth of white matter in one specific area of the brain – the left temporoparietal region. The amount of white matter that a child arrived with in kindergarten didn’t make a difference, but the change in volume between kindergarten and third grade did....
Young Voices find an AudienceAs a foundational piece of our Keys to Content Writing training, we examine the 10 Common Core State Standards for writing. Standard 4 specifically addresses the importance of task, audience and purpose.
W#4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.....
Great Read Aloud BooksWhen my first grandchild was born nearly nine years ago, I received a message from my friend Jim Trelease. I’m not normally a name-dropper, but yup, Jim Trelease contacted me to give me his list of top read-aloud books for grandparents. Mr. Trelease is internationally known for his best selling book, The Read Aloud Handbook. His career was spent in reading books, assessing them for their quality as read-alouds, and traveling the country educating parents and teachers on the value of reading aloud to students. When I grow up I want to be Jim Trelease.....
Resources for Fluency InstructionEven though Keys to Literacy professional development programs focus on comprehension, vocabulary, and writing, we are often asked about resources related to fluency – what it is, why it’s important, and how to teach it. This blog entry is devoted to identifying fluency resources.
I decided to start with the work of Jan Hasbrouck, a friend and colleague who I believe knows more about fluency than any other educator in the country. Together with her colleague, Gerald Tindal, Jan developed the first set of national norms for oral reading fluency performance in 1992. They updated and presented the norms in 2006 in an article: Oral Reading Fluency Norms: A Valuable Assessment Tool for Reading Teachers...